Foundations first – realising the potential of open data

September 27, 2023 by No Comments | Category Data, Data Maturity, Digital, Digital Scotland

A blog by Louise Meikleham, Senior Data Policy Officer in Digital Directorate’s Data Division, explores data’s role in Scotland’s Open Government Action Plan.

Data is all around us. From fitness to finance, holidays to health, it’s everywhere. As individuals we use it all the time to make decisions. But we’re not just consumers, we produce large quantities of data in how we live and the choices we make. 

Data and the insight it generates can be transformative. Industry and society increasingly rely on data. It fuels innovation and informs government policies that affect us all. It’s a valuable asset for the public sector and there’s a huge opportunity to use the knowledge created from data to drive change, transform public services and empower communities.  

Open data can help the public sector do this more efficiently. Publishing non personal data for reuse can increase collaboration across organisational boundaries, reduce duplication and unlock benefits for us all. Despite the potential of open data, it can be challenging to get to a position where that’s possible. 

 The challenge 

Tracking down open data can use up a lot of time. Users often don’t know what data exists, where to find it or how to access it. Data maturity across the public sector also varies. That means not all organisations have the foundations in place to know how to organise and structure their data so it can be published.  

A recent paper from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recognises technical, cultural and regulatory barriers preventing public sector organisations realising the potential of data. If we want to benefit from data as a strategic resource, we need to work on the foundations to enable its use to support decisions and contribute to better outcomes. 

How are we improving?  

Scotland’s Open Government Action Plan 2021-25 includes a digital and data commitment to ‘support government openness, transparency and empowerment through open data’. In previous blogs, Martin Macfie, Head of Open Data, explained how we co-created the plan and the activities that are part of the commitment.  

At its core are six activities that aim to improve the quality and accessibility of data to maximise its value for use and reuse. These cover the broad themes of data availability, capability, user needs and trustworthiness. By working with the public sector to improve these areas, we want to make more data openly available and make it easier to access.  

Our progress with the commitment so far includes: 

  • a data discovery tool that is making it easier to find and access public data. Currently available as a beta version, it discovers datasets other search engines cannot reach.  
  • two cohorts of public sector organisations have completed our data maturity programme. We’ve doubled the size of the third cohort starting in Autumn 2023 and we will be trialling a self-serve modular approach. 
  • a thriving public sector community of practice for data standards and open data with over 200 members who meet for regular drop-in sessions on topics such as data quality, metadata and version control. 
  • changes to Scotland’s official statistics open data publishing platform informed by user research to simplify navigation.  
  • identifying data relevant to other open government themes that could be published openly and supporting that process. 
  • the Scottish AI Register which provides information on artificial intelligence being used or developed in the Scottish public sector. It gives members of the public a way to engage and have their say to help ensure trustworthy, ethical and inclusive AI.

What’s next 

Over the summer we held workshops to help us understand the benefits, challenges and opportunities of open data. Along with desk-based research, we will use this knowledge to shape guidance to help data producers. We’re also scoping further improvements to the technical capabilities and front-end of our official statistics open data publishing platform.  

The most fundamental part of being a member of the Open Government Partnership is working with civil society to develop and deliver the action plan. It brings perspective, it helps us be accountable and it’s made our work better. It’s something we’ll build on for the remainder of the plan, to create better informed and better prepared public sector organisations that can realise the benefits of using and sharing data.  

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